When SyFy’s Alphas showed up last summer, it went from feeling like one more sedate attempt at superhero drama—joining The Cape and No Ordinary Family in the BestBuy discount bin—to a show with real potential and promise. Indeed, my experience with Alphas last year was one of the season’s best television surprises. Most of that can be chalked up to my complete disillusionment with superhero ensemble after Heroes.
This more grounded and ‘realistic’ take on X-Men wasn’t a homerun out of the gate—that first season is extremely wobbly when it comes to writing and pacing—but it improved with each episode, and David Strathairn’s Dr. Lee Rosen helped the disparate cast gain their footing and explore their characters beyond the page. By the time we reached that August cliffhanger, I was just getting fond of the Alphas. Like that, they were gone til next summer…
And now Alphas is back with a season 2 opener that is both relieving and rather frustrating. Relieving because the characters are all back and as we remember, and frustrating because it’s essentially a dramatic reboot. When we last left Dr. Rosen, he was exposing the world to the reality that Alphas walk amongst us. ‘Wake-Up Call’ opens with Rosen locked away in a psychiatric ward, his mental health questioned, his work discredited, and his team disbanded and left to roam.
This makes the episode a ‘getting the band back together’ venture, which is odd considering we only experienced them as a ‘band’ for eleven previous episodes. No matter, things move rather briskly and get under way almost immediately. In a rather painless game of catch-up, we reconnect with Rosen’s scattered alphas; Bill and Cameron are working as a team for the NSA, autistic Gary wandered away from NSA and is now locked down in Binghamton with a chip in his brain rendering him docile, Nina is off ‘brainwashing’ civilians to get by, and Rachel has regressed to the point of shut-in without Rosen’s guidance.
The action begins when Rosen receives the thing he’s been waiting for; news of a major Alpha-related event that would spring him from the nut hatch and back into the government’s ‘must have’ status. That crisis that needs resolved? A prison break from Binghamton, an Arkham meets Guatanamo facility where the rogue alphas are stored. This set piece makes up the main action, and Rosen, Rachel and Nina meet up with Clay and Cameron to go in and put down the revolt and rescue Bill and the nearly comatose Gary. In this particular episode, it’s the villainy that’s sort of hard to follow. The criminals leading the revolt are a smokescreen for brain-melting Scipio, who has masterminded the docility chip that’s keeping the Binghamton alphas at bay. Behind Scipio is baddie Stanton Parish, an immortal veteran of the first Civil War who is rearing to get number two started as soon as he can. It also appears that Rosen’s daughter, Dani, is with Stanton’s team for now. I don’t see any real tantalizing drama happening with Parish in charge, so I’d just as soon he be another smoke screen. Time will tell I suppose.
The resulting action of Wake-Up Call is preordained, and there’s really only one way this can end to move the series forward. Still, it’s not an unpleasant hour, and the special effects on display work nicely, as do the scenes of the Alphas coming back together and utilizing their powers as a unit. If there’s anything that’s truly working for this show it is the way the writers emphasize the necessity of the team both behind and in front of the camera. That’s why it’s simultaenously frustrating and satisfying to break them up just to reunite them. Gary in particular doesn’t get to shine until near the end of the episode, and his drama and storyline are the one I’ve been most invested in during the first season run. My favorite moment of this episode was Rosen reconnecting with him, and drawing back to us the Gary who manifested last year.
In fact, even with a new showrunner in Eureka’s Bruce Miller and a slightly edgier, sharper look, Alphas still feels like a show finding its legs. The difference in this first ep is that there’s a confidence there that looks likely to translate into good things for the future. Strathairn is the glue of the bunch, and he’s also more focused and energetic than he was first season, slowly adapting to the pulpy vibe of the show. It’s not a homerun but it’s a solidly entertaining episode. Maybe this entire ‘reboot’ of the team was necessary for the future of Alphas. I’m looking forward to what the weeks ahead bring.